Posts tagged down

Facebook Cracks Down On Clickbait With An Update To The News Feed by @mattsouthern

Facebook recently announced some some improvements to its News that promise weed out posts that users don’t want to see anymore because they’re too “spammy”. Facebook will be updating its News Feed algorithm to reduce click-baiting headlines, and to help people see links that Facebook says are in the “best format”. Facebook’s Plans To Crush Click-Bait Facebook defines “click-bait” as: “Click-baiting” is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see. Posts like these tend to get a lot of clicks, which […]

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Secret Is Cracking Down On Bullying

Secret, the anonymous application that lets users post random comments and share them with friends, is finally doing something about bullying.

Secret now uses sentiment analysis to determine if someone is posting something against the app’s guidelines—like a harassing comment—and will prompt users to rethink their posts if so. If someone posts it anyway, the Secret team will review the post, and block it if they find it in violation of its policies. Real names will also be blocked from the site whenever possible.

The changes were announced in a blog post on Friday.

It’s a much-needed update to the app that’s become one of Silicon Valley’s most popular Burn Books. Rumors that start on Secret have spilled out into online conversation, including a bunch of actual news about the tech industry.

Of course, many rumors are false. Earlier this year, prominent developer Julie Ann Horvath was the subject of gossip on the mobile application, and in response, she publicly told the real story behind her departure from GitHub, which included accusing company leadership of harassment.

Gossip transcends Silicon Valley—though it’s certainly polarizing in the Bay Area, Secret’s home. On Thursday, Secret was pulled from the App Store in Brazil because under Brazilian law, anonymous free expression is forbidden.

Creating A More Positive Environment

Secret has tried to solve it’s bullying problem before. But as Fortune writer Dan Primack discovered, the app’s flagging system and algorithm that detects certain keywords was not enough.

Now, though, by enabling more extensive anti-bullying measures, Secret can create a safer space and cut down on the anonymous mudslinging.

See Also: I’ll Tell You A Secret: Anonymous Apps Matter

I’ve found that Secret can be a positive place, when you start to weed out all the poison. I often see inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking stories that, for whatever reason, people don’t feel like they can post them anywhere else.

Adding Photos And Polls

Along with the anti-harassment updates, Secret prevents people from uploading photos from their own photo libraries.

People can now search for and add photos from Flickr to use as the image behind their secret, similar to another anonymous app, Whisper. However, the app still lets users take photos in real-time, so it won’t necessarily prevent people from accidentally (or purposely) shrugging the anonymity. 

The app also added a polling feature that lets users ask their friends questions, and see responses in real-time.

Images courtesy of Secret.

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Big Data’s Poster Child Has Issues—But They’re Not Slowing Hadoop Down

Pity poor Hadoop. The open-source software framework is virtually synonymous with the Big Data movement. Yet one of its earliest, biggest users has joined a chorus of critics, charging Hadoop with being “unpredictable” and “risky.” Others, like Gartner’s Merv Adrian, worry about its weak security provisions.

See also: Hadoop: What It Is And How It Works

Despite these (mostly) valid concerns, people and organizations are still lining up to adopt Hadoop, which makes it possible to store and process huge amounts of data on clusters of commodity hardware. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the entire planet hasn’t just been hoodwinked into the Hadoop embrace. Why does it remain so successful?

Loopholes In Hadoop

As the poster child for the Big Data movement, it’s not surprising that Hadoop is often given a free pass when it comes to many of its weaknesses. Still, there are an awful lot of them.

As one of the earliest users of Hadoop at Yahoo!, Sean Suchter seems qualified to point out Hadoop’s weak operational capabilities. Among the concerns he highlights:

Hadoop can usually ensure that a data job completes, but it is unable to guarantee when the job will be completed. Hadoop jobs often take longer to run than anticipated, making it risky to depend on the job output in production applications. When a critical production job is running, other, lower-priority jobs can sometimes swallow up the cluster’s hardware resources, like disk and network, creating serious resource contentions that ultimately can result in critical production jobs failing to complete safely and on time.

And then there’s security. Gartner analyst Merv Adrian polled enterprises for their biggest barriers to Hadoop adoption. Among unsurprising results like “undefined value proposition,” Adrian was particularly interested by how few seemed to care about Hadoop’s security:

In response, he says, “Can it be that people believe Hadoop is secure? Because it certainly is not. At every layer of the stack, vulnerabilities exist, and at the level of the data itself there [are] numerous concerns.” 

Given the type of data—e.g., credit card transaction data, health data, etc.—commonly being used with Hadoop, it’s surprising that so few seem to be thinking about security. But it’s also surprising that these and other concerns don’t seem to be holding back Hadoop adoption.

The Hadoop Train Has Left The Station

And let’s be clear: none of these concerns has slowed Hadoop’s rise. As IDC finds, over half of enterprises have either deployed or are planning to deploy Hadoop within the next year, with over 100,000 people listing Hadoop as part of their talent profile on LinkedIn:

In part this broad adoption reflects a characteristic of Hadoop: It’s open source and encourages data exploration in a way that traditional technologies like enterprise data warehouses cannot. As Alex Popescu notes, Hadoop “allows experimenting and trying out new ideas, while continuing to accumulate and storing your data.” 

Developers and other users know it’s complex and understand its other limitations, but the upside of quickly downloading the technology and using it to store and analyze large quantities of data is too tempting.

Also, there seems to be a growing awareness that the pace of innovation in the Hadoop community is so fast that today’s challenges will likely be resolved by tomorrow. As such, Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri declares that “[t]he Hadoop open source community and commercial vendors are innovating like gangbusters to make Hadoop an enterprise staple” to the point that it will “become must-have infrastructure for large enterprises.”

And, Not Or

One other reason that Hadoop has proved so successful is that it’s not really growing at anyone’s expense. Hadoop doesn’t displace existing data infrastructure, it just adds to it.

As Cloudera’s Christophe Bisciglia notes

Rather than replace existing systems, Hadoop augments them by offloading the particularly difficult problem of simultaneously ingesting, processing and delivering/exporting large volumes of data so existing systems can focus on what they were designed to do.

Still, while Hadoop isn’t likely to replace an enterprise data warehouse today, relative interest in Hadoop is booming relative to its EDW peers:

Hadoop isn’t perfect. It’s not manna from heaven that will feed billions or foster world peace. But it’s promising enough that enterprises are willing to overlook its problems today to benefit from its power tomorrow. 

Lead image by Arpit Gupta

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Perseid Meteor Shower Rains Down in Google Doodle

The Google Doodle for August 11 and 12 in many parts of the world highlights the annual August meteor shower NASA considers the year’s best.

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Amazon Web Services: It’s Big, Getting Bigger And Not Slowing Down

Amazon Web Services is already the 800-pound gorilla in cloud. It offers five times the utilized compute capacity of its next 14 competitors combined and is arguably the fastest-growing software business in history. According to Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, however, this isn’t nearly ambitious enough. AWS aims to become an 800,000-pound gorilla. 

That’s because Amazon isn’t in the business of “infrastructure as a service,” as the process of setting data services such as storage and computation is dubbed in a jargony way. According to Vogels, Amazon is in “the business of pain management for enterprises.” And there’s a whole lot of pain to manage these days.

Amazon’s Dominance Problem

While not a bully, Amazon tends to dominate the markets it gets into. In retail this means that Amazon outsells its nine closest competitors, combined. While we like to fixate on the success of Apple stores, they move just a fraction of the product Amazon sells, according to data from Internet Retailer:

See also: Google’s Secret Weapon Against Amazon: Blisteringly Fast Networks

Amazon’s retail business generates roughly $70 billion in revenues. In an interview with Recode, Vogels insisted that Amazon has every intention of making AWS as big or bigger than its retail operations:

This is a business that will be as big as our retail businesses if not bigger.… It took us six years, or until 2012, to get to 1 trillion objects stored. Then it took us one more year to get to 2 trillion. So that’s an indication of the speed of growth. To my eyes, that it only took a year to get to 2 trillion, it looks like the onset of a hockey stick.

In other words, that huge delta between AWS and its cloud rivals? Amazon expects it to get even bigger.

Competitors? What Competitors?

When asked about competitors, Vogels was quick to assert that Amazon doesn’t think about what other cloud providers are doing except “when we want to understand why someone might want to choose something other than AWS.”

Let’s assume he’s telling the truth, and the company is completely customer-centric, and not too bothered by what Microsoft or Google might be up to (which might not be wise, as I’ve argued here and here). 

See also: What Microsoft’s Fiercest Critics Forget: Azure

The reality, however, is that AWS is a bigger threat by far to established software companies than to cloudy new providers. As Credit Suisse IT executive Zohar Melamed states it:

In other words, Amazon’s rise, as troubling as it may be to its cloud competitors, spells the end of an enterprise software era. That’s got to keep the Oracles of the world up at night.

Lock-in Rising?

So competitors should be worried, but what about customers? With so much of modern workloads running on AWS, do enterprises risk locking themselves into the next Microsoft?

Definitely maybe.

Vogels, of course, says no way: 

[Amazon has] worked really hard at not locking our customers in…. There’s no lock-in. Many of our services are really accessible from standard protocols. I’ve never gotten any feedback from our customers saying “please don’t build this.” They all say “please build more….” It’s the same story around standardization. I’ve yet to have a customer say they’re not going to use our stuff because it’s not standardized.

Yet according to one AWS partners, Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, the only real way to avoid lock-in is through standardized open source software. As Mickos writes, “What to a customer first looked like an exciting new piece of software—easy to try, no strings attached—soon infests the organization and isn’t quite as easy to remove.” So, he suggests, “By using industry-standard open source software products, you reduce your lock-in down to an absolute minimum.”

AWS runs on a lot of open-source software, of course, but it’s not open source itself. While I doubt AWS spends any time trying to find ways to lock its customers in, the reality is that many will be.

Not because the code is closed so much as because we keep wanting to build more and more within AWS, just as we used to want to build everything with the Microsoft stack. In sum, while one day we may regret our new Amazon overlord, it seems we’re currently all too content to push as much of our IT onto Vogel’s shoulders as possible.

Lead image of Amazon CTO Werner Vogels by Flickr user The Next Web Photos, CC 2.0

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Panda Strikes Again: Yahoo Voices & The Yahoo Contributor Network Closing Down

Yahoo has announced another round of product cuts and changes, all part of what it calls a continued effort on “furthering our focus.” The most notable cut announced today is the upcoming closure of both Yahoo Voices (voices.yahoo.com) and the Yahoo Contributor Network…



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Breaking Down Page Speed Events For SEO Gain – Search Engine Land

Breaking Down Page Speed Events For SEO Gain
Search Engine Land
We all know page speed is important to SEO, but how can we accurately — and quickly — assess if our performance is good enough? Identify where the issues actually lie? While Google's Page Speed tool is excellent for diagnosing page issues, site-wide …

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Breaking Down Page Speed Events For SEO Gain

It’s important to get clear the value of changes in terms of SEO impact before allocating in-demand tech time to work on fixes. To throw up just one example: if your page returns in less than one second what impact will fixing render-blocking CSS have on absolute page load times?



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Google To Shut Down Its First Social Network, Orkut by @mattsouthern

It was announced today that Google intends to shut down its very first social network, Orkut. As of September 30, 2014, Orkut will no longer be available. Orkut’s primary audience was in India and Brazil, but interest in the network has been waning over time. It is no longer used by as many people, and this Google Trends chart shows that interest in Orkut saw a sharp decline in 2012 that it did not recover from. The Orkut blog illustrates the decline of the social network: Ten years ago, Orkut was Google’s first foray into social networking. Built as a […]

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What Is XSS, The Vulnerability That Took Down TweetDeck?

If you’re a TweetDeck user, there’s a good chance that you saw a lot of people retweet something like this today:

You may also have gotten a dialogue box from TweetDeck in a browser that reminds you of being on the Internet in 2007.

TweetDeck, a client application for Twitter power users, was hit with an attack via a vulnerability that let someone else remotely hijack a user’s account and tweet the script above. Considering that many prolific tweeters are also TweetDeck users, it was difficult, if not impossible, for most users to avoid that malicious—if not terribly damaging—script today.

What Is XSS?

Blame what’s known as a cross-site scripting vulnerability, usually just called XSS. This is a common security hole in Web applications—a favorite among nefarious hackers and pranksters alike—through which a hacker can make the application run outside code (formally, a script). XSS allows attackers to make an end run around access controls such as passwords or security questions.

Historically, there have been two main types of XSS vulnerabilities. The first involves an attack in which the scripting code hits a Web server and then sends (ostensibly malicious) commands to unsuspecting users via the Web pages they’re viewing. This doesn’t seem to be the sort of attack that took Tweetdeck offline today.

Instead, TweetDeck likely experienced what is known as DOM-based (for Document Object Model) cross-site scripting. DOM is a cross-platform convention for representing and interacting with objects in HTML and other Web documents. DOM-based cross-site scripting doesn’t touch the server; instead, the attacker sends a malicious script directly to a user, where it runs inside a Web application in the user’s browser (technically, as part of an associated document model that was maliciously modified in the attack). In this case, the application in question was TweetDeck.

Given the way this sort of attack works, the script was limited to actions that TweetDeck itself could normally take. (In case you’re curious, that’s because all JavaScript—including the malicious code in this XSS attack—executes in a “sandbox” that limits its access to data and other functions on the computer.) So the script could have tweeted, retweeted, favorited, followed or unfollowed users. It would not, however, have gotten access to a computer’s hard drive or sensitive files stored locally.

Near as anyone can tell at the moment, the only thing this script did was to propagate itself by sending out further tweets—well, and to push message popups onto the screens of affected users. According to The Verge, a 19-year-old Austrian is claiming responsibility for the incident, saying he stumbled across the TweetDeck security vulnerability by accident and was merely experimenting with it. It’s not immediately clear who was responsible for a subsequent rash of retweets and popup messages.

 

Twitter: All Clear

The attacks mostly affected users who run TweetDeck in browsers such as Google Chrome. Those that use the desktop client apparently weren’t specifically afflicted. Twitter had said that it had fixed the issue before backtracking and taking down the service for everybody around as of about 1:00 p.m. EST while it investigated the security issue.

Twitter has fixed the vulnerability and TweetDeck is currently working for all users on both desktop and Web clients. 

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